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Dombey and Son
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The Dickens Project - Archives > Dombey and Son, Chapters 52-55 , August 31- September 06

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments More and more questions are answered in these four chapters. We are discussing chapters 52-55 this week.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Dickens is consistently dark in these three chapters. Florence, the enchanted princess of this family saga, does not feature here. Dickens dedicate these chapters to exploration of human darkness. We learn about Carker's previous affairs and dark past, about Rob the Grinder who seems to know so much about Carker and Edith.
Mrs. Brown also shows her ugly persuasive side while Mr.Dombey is hiding somewhere in the house to obtain information about Carker and Edith when Rob is being interrogated. One can only question the values and priorities Mr. Dombey has when his prime goal is not to find his only child, but to find and punish his manager and his runaway wife. On the other hand, Dickens previously explained that Florence's absence was not a significant change in the daily routine of Mr. Dombey. She only became more invisible than she used to be. It is indeed a vitriolic commentary because it speaks volumes about Florence's role and position in the family.
In the final chapter of this week, section, we are privileged to witness the restless mind of one of the biggest villains Dickens creates. As in case with Jonas Chuzzlewit, Carker's mind is restless and is on the erratic move. His painful angst of being rejected and forgotten in a foreign country is a permanent feature throughout the chapter. It is surprising how Dickens manages to create the beautiful passages about solitude and rejection that are permeated with the spirit of death. Dickens was always apprehensive of railroads. This part of technological progress always scared him. If anyone remembers, that feeling of unrest is already present in earlier chapters when Dickens described the commotion and chaos associated with the construction of new rail roads. And now he choose trains as a tool of human vengeance. He definitely is relying on the metaphorical implications, but the gruesome interpretation is inevitable. We were discussing how Edith is quite similar to other heroines of the classical canon in literature. It is somewhat ironic that Carker's death, not Edith's, is similar to Karenina's demise. I also find Dickens's fear of trains visionary and even otherworldly. When the novel was written, The Staplehurst rail crash had not yet happened. More than ten year later, Dickens would be one of the victims who would barely survive the derailment.
There were few reassuring moments in these chapters. Mr. Morfin, a certain deux ex machina, is on the rescue mission to save the other Carkers. The other one is Edith and her relationship with Carker. We finally learn that she did not elope because of her feelings; she ran away because of either she found the atmosphere of the Dombey household unbearable or she wanted to hurt Dombey. Either reason is more noble than the dalliance with the Cheshire Cat.


Sarah | 269 comments There is a definite air of malevolence in these chapters as we come closer and closer to the novel’s end. Several of the characters are transformed into monsters of a sort. Rob the Grinder becomes Rob the Snitch to save his own skin. Alice remarks that Dombey is going to do “mischief,” and when her mother asks, “Murder?”, Alice replies that “He’s a madman, in his wounded pride, and may do that, for anything we can say, or he either” (chapter 52). This is a chilling foreshadowing as well as a glimpse into a different aspect of Dombey’s character. Up to this point, he has been cold and demanding but not necessarily frightening.

Carker’s ultimate demise is heavily alluded to as he flees his refuge in Dijon on a journey that takes him back to England and to his death. His mind is spinning: “The clatter and commotion echoed to the hurry and discordance of the fugitive’s ideas. Nothing clear without, and nothing clear within” (chapter 55), and his life flashes before his eyes, as the cliché goes: “It was a vision of things past and present all confounded together; of his life and journey blending into one…the past, present, and future all floated confusedly before him, and he had lost all power of looking steadily at any one of them” (chapter 55). His end is made more hideous by the reference to the trains as “approaching monsters,” and he is likewise beaten down and gruesomely killed by one of these red-eyed monsters. The hellish imagery is so intense that even cold-hearted Dombey nearly faints.

Edith remains relatively unchanged, although more wild. At any rate, she does not regret leaving Dombey: “The same defiant, scornful woman still. The cheek a little worn, the eye a little larger in appearance, and more lustrous, but the haughty bearing just the same. No shame upon her brow; no late repentance bending her disdainful neck” (chapter 54). Likewise, she doesn’t hesitate to leave Carker either, abandoning him to her jilted husband. First, however, she puts Carker in his place by threatening him with a knife: “The sudden change in her, the towering fury and intense abhorrence sparkling in her eyes and lighting up her brow, made him stop as if a fire had stopped him” (chapter 54). She also tells him that “if all my other reasons for despising him could have been blown away like feathers, his having you for his counsellor and favourite, would have almost been enough to hold their place” (chapter 54). She is admirably bold and brassy for a Victorian woman, although her standing up for herself has sadly come too late to save her from a miserable life. She and Carker have something in common in that both have been subjected to Dombey’s despotic nature, and both had their own designs in mind—Edith when she left Dombey and Carker all along as he plotted against his employer. Carker himself says, “Sicily shall be the place of our retreat. In the idlest and easiest part of the world, my soul, we’ll both seek compensation for old slavery” (chapter 54). Now that Carker is out of the picture, I wonder if Edith will reappear or if she has vanished once and for all into obscurity and unhappiness.

One part of this section struck me as odd, that being Alice’s sudden appearance at John and Harriet Carker’s home and her confession of having betrayed Carker in order to effect her revenge upon him. She tells Harriet that she now repents having given him up to Dombey and doesn’t want that hanging over her head along with her other sins. I found this strange given her hatred of him and her previous conduct. Was she swayed by Dombey’s almost demoniacal anger and strength of purpose, or is Dickens trying to redeem Alice? This last unexpected bid for goodness seemed very out of character, but then again so did Dombey’s sudden rage.


Elizabeth (Alaska) My notes:

Finally we get to Dombey, his anger, and the chase. Dombey visits Mrs. Brown and daughter, where Rob the Grinder visits with Dombey hiding behind a door. Mrs. Brown fills Rob full of liquor so that he will talk. Carker and Edith have fled to Dijon.

We find Carker and Edith in an inn. I was surprised that Edith would actually keep the appointment, as I thought she would know where Carker wanted to be and she would be elsewhere – anywhere else! However, Edith is filled with just as much hatred of Carker as she was of Dombey (as I thought) and is repulsed by him. She escapes, just as Dombey is banging on the door. Carker also makes his escape, but is haunted by imaginary visions of Dombey in chase.

Finally, he is plunged to his death on the railroad tracks. In Chapters 19-22, there is the recurring quote regarding trains. “The very speed at which the train was whirled along, mocked the swift course of the young life that had been borne away so steadily and so inexorably to its foredoomed end. The power that forced itself upon its iron way – its own – defiant of all paths and roads, piercing through the heart of every obstacle, and dragging living creatures of all classes, ages, and degrees behind it, was a type of the triumphant monster, Death.” I certainly did not recognize this as foretelling.

This chapter was titled “Rob Grinder loses his place.” Haha! I kept wondering about the confrontation between Carker and Rob, and also wondered how Carker deduced Rob was the stooge.

Where did Edith disappear to?


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Melanie | 48 comments Mrs Brown has a pretty effective strategy to make Rob talk. Although he has done nothing wrong, she manages to make him feel guilty by talking him into believing that his conduct, only giving her short answers, is unkind and ungrateful.

Btw, does Mrs Brown have a son? (“You’re like my own son Robby”) (?)

I was wondering if Mrs Skewton and Mrs Brown came from similarly poor families and only chose different ways of dealing with the situation, trying to improve it – Mrs Skewton choosing rich husbands for herself and Edith, Mrs Brown robbing people. Eventually, neither Edith nor Alice is angry with her mother any more. Edith forgives her mother before Mrs Skewton dies, and Alice mentions several times that she is aware that not her mother, but the difficult circumstances (or the bad world in general) are to blame.

Something must have happened between Alice and Carker in the past that we still haven’t been told about. She tells Harriet that after the robbery for which she got convicted, she “would have gone to death, sooner than ask him for a word.” Why did she hate him so much already at that time?

Alice seems to have decided in the heat of the moment to let Dombey chase Carker. She is struck with remorse later, being afraid that she would be the one responsible for Carker’s death if Dombey killed him.

Elizabeth, I also found Dickens’s circumscription of the happenings in chapter 55 interesting (“Rob the Grinder loses his place”). Rob does not even show up in this chapter:).

I liked these dark chapters very much and found them beautifully written - the scene of Mrs Brown blackmailing Rob, then Alice frightening Harriet by appearing at her window, Edith and Carker in the deserted house, and finally Carker's flight and the disturbed night he spends in the hotel.


Sarah | 269 comments Melanie wrote: "Btw, does Mrs Brown have a son? (“You’re like my own son Robby”) (?)"

I assumed that she was buttering him up and that this was just an expression, similar to someone telling someone else with whom they have a close relationship that he or she is like a son or daughter to him or her. I could be wrong, though. :-)


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Melanie | 48 comments Sarah wrote: "I assumed that she was buttering him up and that this was just an expression, similar to someone telling someo..."

That makes more sense. Guess I was projecting too much into it, thinking of the last chapters of other Dickens novels, where characters suddenly appear and others turn out to be related to each other.:)


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Robin P | 2205 comments Mod
Edith is magnificent, she actually frightens off Carker. But how will she survive? She made a point of not taking any of Dombey's jewels. And a woman couldn't travel alone. Can Florence and Walter find her? Or will she use her knife or another method to escape her life?

The nightmarish passage about Carker's journey, describing the constant sounds of jingling, hoof beats, etc., and his inability to sleep or rest, is very compelling and I think psychologically sound. It may seem odd that Carker collapsed so utterly but it seems he couldn't imagine that his schemes wouldn't work out, they always had before. Good thought, Zulfiya, comparing him with Jonas Chuzzlewit, who is also haunted at the end, and even Bill Sykes.

Carker has sold his soul to the devil over the years, and now he sees dark spectres and eventually the monster of death itself. Nice contrast with the original train scene when Dombey was going to the place where he would meet Edith.

Dickens manages to sneak in some caricatures of the French and their speech, interesting how he does it in semi third person when reporting the speech of the hotel staff.


Lynnm | 3027 comments Not much to add - everyone else did a great job in summarizing the chapters.

I will only add my two cents on Edith and what happened to Carker.

I loved how Edith stood up to Carker. And now we know that she didn't voluntary run away from him - he blackmailed her. She's a great study for feminist literary theory.

Now we know why Dickens used trains as a metaphor for death. Twice previously in the book, he talked about the destruction that trains cause. And the second time was with Dombey. All foreshadowing Dombey witnessing Carker being struck by the train.

I love this book - I don't have a favorite character as I did with Sam Weller in Pickwick papers, but the overall story is I think Dickens' best.


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Lynnm | 3027 comments Sarah wrote: "One part of this section struck me as odd, that being Alice’s sudden appearance at John and Harriet Carker’s home and her confession of having betrayed Carker in order to effect her revenge upon him. She tells Harriet that she now repents having given him up to Dombey and doesn’t want that hanging over her head along with her other sins. I found this strange given her hatred of him and her previous conduct. "

I was a bit surprised too. Although when I was reading it, I thought that it made her a better person. She wasn't a one dimensional character, merely a vehicle of revenge. And she wasn't so hardened by what Carker did to her that she still didn't recognize the humanity of all the people involved.

We like Alice - and this makes us like her even more.

But along with others, I wish Dickens would let us know what Carker did to her. At one point, she says that she won't discuss what happened - I hope Dickens isn't going to leave it with that declaration.


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Anne | 93 comments I don't really have much to add since everyone has already covered most of my thoughts. I love this book, and I don't think I will be able to resist the urge to keep reading until the end. I can't wait to find out how it all works out.

I thought of Anna Karenina while I was reading this section too, although that may be because I just finished that book about a week ago.

Dickens (through Edith) certainly has a way with insults. Carker really got put in his place.

I liked this particular line: "If we were not such creatures of habit as we are, we shouldn't have reason to be astonished half so often."


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Hedi | 978 comments I have been on vacation staying with friends in Northern Italy during the last week, came back yesterday and see that you all have already discussed a lot related to the current chapters.
So there is not much to add from my side either:

One thing I found revealing was the discussion between Edith and Carker how this all began. In chapter 43 Florence encountered Edith in a sort of nightmarish condition. I think this was due to the occasion she is describing to Carker, when he was proposing the flight with him and actually kissed her or as she puts it
"...that this man put his lips to mine that night, and held me in his arms as he has done again tonight..."

Dickens's antipathy against railroads is very interesting. In the last chapter he calls it the Devil, which made me smile a little, especially as I read The Crucible during my trip.


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Hedi | 978 comments Robin wrote: "Edith is magnificent, she actually frightens off Carker. But how will she survive? She made a point of not taking any of Dombey's jewels. And a woman couldn't travel alone. Can Florence and Walter ..."

I was wondering about this, too. Unlike Anna Karenina, she does not have anybody at all now. She will be shunned by society, has no money or any other property and in theory nobody to turn to, as I think that her rich Cousin Feenix will not take care of her siding rather with Dombey.

I hope we will learn more about her fate in the end.


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Hedi | 978 comments Melanie wrote: "Something must have happened between Alice and Carker in the past that we still haven’t been told about. She tells Harriet that after the robbery for which she got convicted, she “would have gone to death, sooner than ask him for a word.” Why did she hate him so much already at that time? ..."

This is something I would like to know as well. I still have my speculation in a certain way already described in a previous thread, but I hope that Dickens will reveal this secret.

The same applies to the story of Carker the Elder. Mr. Morfin mentioned a little of it and that he knows all about it, but we have not really received the full story yet. Or did I miss anything?


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Robin P | 2205 comments Mod
"...that this man put his lips to mine that night, and held me in his arms as he has done again tonight."

In the BBC version, it showed Carker grabbing & kissing Edith when he left after she told off Dombey. I was quite shocked, thinking they had totally made that up, but it seems it did occur in the book, if not at that specific time.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Sarah wrote: "One part of this section struck me as odd, that being Alice’s sudden appearance at John and Harriet Carker’s home and her confession of having betrayed Carker in order to effect her revenge upon him. "

Alice as a character has a potential, but as many of his fringe characters she is underdeveloped. She was definitely conceived as an impulsive woman with strong emotions and a potential to change the plot line, but I think Dickens eventually decided to focus more on his key players. That might explain her unpredictable and impetuous nature.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: Edith is magnificent, she actually frightens off Carker."

Definitely love this characterization, Robin!


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Anne wrote: "I thought of Anna Karenina while I was reading this section too, although that may be because I just finished that book about a week ago."

Cultural intertextuality rules the world. The trick is Anna Karenina was written AFTER Dombey and Son:-)


Elizabeth (Alaska) And, of course, not everyone has read Anna Karenina.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Hedi wrote: "Dickens's antipathy against railroads is very interesting. In the last chapter he calls it the Devil, which made me smile a little, especially as I read The Crucible during my trip.

He was a man with quite progressive views, but at that time technological progress was mostly associated with the amassing of the capital and the poverty of many workers. I think that might be the key factor of his antipathy.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "And, of course, not everyone has read Anna Karenina."

Maybe, we should read it:-) IMHO, it is much better than the pan-Slavic War and Peace


Elizabeth (Alaska) I'd be up for that - I think. I did read an abridged version maybe 40 years ago and remember little of it except that I liked it. I do not remember the ending, but even if I did, I don't remember how it got to that point either. ;-)

Someone once asked me why I read an abridged version. I didn't realize it was when I checked it out of the library, and then ... well, can I feign youthful ignorance?


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Anne | 93 comments I wish I had read an abridged version. The main plotline was interesting, but there were so many diversions into Russian politics, farming, serfdom, education of the poor, etc. that I had a hard time maintaining focus. I ended up giving it 2.5 stars (rounded down to 2) because the good parts were overpowered by the large stretches of mind-numbing boredom.


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Anne | 93 comments Zulfiya wrote: "He was a man with quite progressive views, but at that time technological progress was mostly associated with the amassing of the capital and the poverty of many workers. I think that might be the key factor of his antipathy. "

That sounds an awful lot like America right now. Business leaders really haven't changed much. They'll do anything they can get away with regardless of what is good for their workers or society.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Anne wrote: "That sounds an awful lot like America right now. Business leaders really haven't changed much. They'll do anything they can get away with regardless of what is good for their workers or society. "

Not sure we want this discussion, but I think you're painting things with an awfully broad brush. I think perhaps, instead, that the current administration doesn't know how business operates and that the pockets of business are bottomless.


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Anne wrote: "That sounds an awful lot like America right now. Business leaders really haven't changed much. They'll do anything they can get away with regardless of what is good for their workers o..."


I always have moot feelings about it; the GOP and their supporters can be quite nasty. I think I have antagonistic feelings about them because I live in the South/MidWest. Were I in any other situation, I would view them as curiosities of the obsolete era.

Anne, speaking about Anna Karenina, one should remember that Russian literature is always political. It was and is the only way of doublespeak in Russia. This was the only legitimate outlet for someone's opinions and ideas that were/ are against the official doctrine.

'A poet in Russia is much more than a poet' is a usual adage that adequately describes why Russian books are so politicised :-)


Elizabeth (Alaska) Zulfiya wrote: "I always have moot feelings about it; the GOP and their supporters can be quite nasty. I think I have antagonistic feelings about them because I live in the South/MidWest. Were I in any other situation, I would view them as curiosities of the obsolete era. "

Ha! would there more than those two stinking parties for people to choose between/amongst.


Lynnm | 3027 comments Anne wrote: "I wish I had read an abridged version. The main plotline was interesting, but there were so many diversions into Russian politics, farming, serfdom, education of the poor, etc. that I had a hard t..."

I had a lot of difficulties getting through those chapters myself. As Zulfiya said, I did realize that it was Tolstoy's opportunity to more safely discuss the political - and if I remember correctly, Tolstoy is considering the best economic system? I made it through all of it until I came to the end. I think it was like 50+ pages on how Christianity was the answer. After about 5 pages, and realizing how much more was to come, I said, enough - and skipped it. :-)


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Lynnm | 3027 comments Zulfiya wrote: "I always have moot feelings about it; the GOP and their supporters can be quite nasty. I think I have antagonistic feelings about them because I live in the South/MidWest. Were I in any other situation, I would view them as curiosities of the obsolete era. "

I'm with you - I think of them as obsolete as well. And so do the vast majority of young people. Unless they change, they will be going the way of the dinosaur...

Hopefully they will figure out how to make their party relevant again, because we need a strong two party system.

But as Elizabeth said, probably not the place to discuss this. ;)


Lynnm | 3027 comments Anne wrote: "That sounds an awful lot like America right now. Business leaders really haven't changed much. They'll do anything they can get away with regardless of what is good for their workers or society."

Agree with you as well.

I was a business major (sadly) and had the misfortune of having to take American business history. A long history of greed and corruption. And interference in the government.


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Frances (francesab) | 1871 comments Mod
There was a fascinating writing device Dickens employed at the end of chapter 55. In the paragraph that begins "A vision of change upon change..." while he is describing Carker's fevered ride he comes to "...and still the same monotony of bells and wheels, of horses' feet, and no rest." 2 paragraphs later, he writes "Of the monotony of bells and wheels and horses' feet being at length lost in the universal din and uproar." and the paragraph ends "...as he travelled on towards the seacoast, of the monotony of bells and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest." Again, in the middle of the next paragraph we have "...and still the old monotony of bells and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest." Then on the following page, another paragraph ends with "...jaded and scared by the monotony of bells and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest." One page later, he ends another paragraph with the sentence fragment "No oblivion, and no rest." It is so evocative and powerful a device to describe the relentlessness of what is coming on towards him, and although he is describing the carriage ride it also evokes the feeling of the powerful, endlessly rolling train. It is certainly Dickens with some of his most compelling writing.


Sarah | 269 comments Frances wrote: "There was a fascinating writing device Dickens employed at the end of chapter 55. In the paragraph that begins "A vision of change upon change..." while he is describing Carker's fevered ride he co..."

I noticed this too. Dickens has employed these repetitive refrains at most of the pivotal scenes in the novel, and it goes along with the musical style that was mentioned earlier. Brilliant writing! :-)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Sarah wrote: "Frances wrote: "There was a fascinating writing device Dickens employed at the end of chapter 55. In the paragraph that begins "A vision of change upon change..." while he is describing Carker's fe..."

Breathtaking. I re-read some of passages just of the sake of sheer power and beauty. Every time he comes up with these lyrical passages, they are used with the main villains - Dombey and Carker. Speaking about the role of the evil in a novel ... :-)


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